Album: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (Constellation CST051 2008)


Wasn’t there supposed to be a live album coming out? I don’t know what happened to that, but Silver Mt Zion are back with a new studio set, this time rejoicing as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band (as they were on Horses In The Sky).

Tracks one to twelve zoom past in just over a minute – a lonely squeal of sustained and looped feedback. Proceedings proper begin at track thirteen, “1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound” (coincidentally, or not, the upper estimate of the number of Iraqis killed in five years of illegal occupation. The disparity with the lower estimate of “only” 150,000 does tend to illustrate how fucking clueless everyone involved in the whole farrago really is). Anyway, back to the music, campers. As you’d expect, this is a pretty damned angry track. It’s constructed like a mantra – building up and then breaking down into a chant of the title that hammers home the message.

Vocals have played an increasingly central role in recent Silver Mt Zion releases, with singing in-the-round and call-and-response chanting featured. Efrim’s cracked tenor is admittedly an acquired taste, but nobody could dispute the passion he puts into his singing. And for me, that more than makes up for his technical limitations. His lyrics are a little idiosyncratic in their grammar, but he’s fantastic at painting apocalyptic visions with spare prose and skilfully chosen metaphor.

The title track crashes along for five minutes, breaks and rebuilds on a riff that could’ve come straight off a Cream album. The whole piece is structured like one of those side-long blues-rock jams that would appear on early seventies ‘classic rock’ live albums: quiet grooves and explosive riffing. But it’s about a thousand times more interesting.

“Black Waters Blowed-Engine Broke Blues” is a medley. The first part, a desperate, cracked ballad lit up with the scratched squalls of Jessica Moss’ and Sophie Trudeau’s violins. It even has a chorus of sorts that you can whistle (if that’s your test of a good tune), and some old-fashioned rock guitar. “Engine Broke Blues” is absolutely magnificent, almost hymnal (but why is Efrim singing in a mockney Damon Albarn accent?), culminating in a desperate chant. Lyrically it is angry and defeated, whilst the music is almost triumphant.

“Blind Blind Blind” is almost the opposite. The epic melancholy of the music is juxtaposed with the lyrics that drag and nurture hope from the wreckage of a faded revolution (“We want punks in the palace / ‘cause punks’ got the loveliest dreams”). It ends with the thought that “…some hearts are true / but some hearts aren’t hardly true. But Some Hearts Are True…”. It’s a stunning, stirring piece of music, and a fitting end to a brilliant record.

There are still folk out there who view Silver Mt Zion as some kind of amusing side project that will suffice until Godspeed You Black Emperor roll back into town. They need to get over it. Firstly, it ain’t gonna happen. I think everyone involved realised that the band had painted themselves into a musical corner by the time Yanqui UXO appeared. They’d begun to sound like their imitators. And anyway, SMZ, to my mind, have moved way beyond their forbears. This is now one of the best, most literate (musically, lyrically, politically and emotionally) rock acts on the planet, and 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons could be the best thing they’ve ever done.

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13 1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound (14:42)
14 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (16:45)
15 Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues (13:05)
16 BlindBlindBlind (13:17)



12 responses to “Album: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (Constellation CST051 2008)

  1. 100% concur with your words here. Would you believe this album has being taking a bit of a hit elsewhere. I think it is superb, angry protest music.

    Have you seen them live? They are wonderful, almost a religious experience

  2. Can’t say that I’ve seen any other reviews. I only really read The Wire and an odd assortment of bloggers. Most reviewers in the mainstream press are pretty clueless when it comes to anything remotely leftfield. John L Walters and Maddy Costa in the Guardian are rare exceptions.

    I’ve seen SMZ around half a dozen times and they never disappoint. Unfortunately their latest sojourn includes only London in the UK. It’s not altogether surprising – there seems to be a much healthier appreciation of the non-mainstream outside of Britain where folk are free from the malevolent force of the indie police.

  3. I have a feeling they will go for a longer tour through the Summer or maybe at the close of the year. Did you see them at the ABC 2 years ago, they moved the gig downstairs and it was packed to the rafters. They could barely fit on stage, yet it all added to the intimate and intense atmosphere. It was the first I had heard ‘1 Million People Died…’ and ‘BlindBlindBlind’. I thought they were breathtaking.

    Fuck the indie police and their malevolent force!

  4. an oddly straight forward (relatively speaking) rock record for them too.

    i’m thinking it’s more a matter of economics and geography rather than the music mafia. that said there does seem to be a surprising apathy (in glasgow at least) at the bottom end of the gig scale.

  5. I was at the ABC2 show – it was summer 2006, hardly years ago!

    They’ve played Glasgow three times in 7 years so, to be fair, its probably time that the good folk of Switzerland, France and Germany had a go.

    I think the apathy in Glasgow is largely due to us being spoilt by the number of gigs there are here. I was in college in Hull for three years, and anybody coming to town was a bit of an event, so you’d feel duty bound to go – even if you didn’t like them that much.

  6. Actually I see how I made that error. I read “I saw them at the ABC2 years ago” (as opposed to the ABC1). So I misread it, but not in a way that requires a long rest cure in the country.

  7. Thank you for your review. It’s right on target. I concur with Michael’s sentiment: Fuck the indie police (especially Pitchfork)! This is an amazing album. GS!YBE was/is a great band, but ASMZ is not the same band, even if constituted by a proper subset of the members of the former.

    Incidentally, I saw ASMZ two nights ago at the Bowery in NYC. This was my second time seeing them and they did not disappoint. Their new material is great. I cannot wait for their next album.

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  9. your review was (obviously) right on, but i’m sure that nobody needed to say that. asmz is definitely growing as a band in a way that godspeed could not (or would not, who knows?), but i still think that godspeed is as important as asmz, but in a different way. duh. but the fact remains that everything efrim has touched (or been touched by, a la vic chesnut) is important & one of the brightest and most beautiful sources of hope, protest, and love that will ever come into existence. i’m going to quit gushing now. thanks to everyone who gives asmz and the like a chance, and actually listens to, not just hears, their records. oh yeah, check out the web site if you haven’t. (that’s my attempt at a joke)

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